Dicky's Doodles &Scribbles

Cartoons,editorials and comment about current events and more.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Memories of Celia, 1970


Memories of Celia, Aug. 3-4, 1970
By Dicky Neely
As July faded into August in Corpus Christi people went about their business as usual. Few paid much attention when a tropical depression formed in the Caribbean.
The system moved quickly and entered the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 31. The next day it was a tropical storm and became a hurricane by the afternoon.
In those days hurricane tracking technology was far behind what we enjoy today. Nevertheless, satellite pictures clearly showed great shots of cyclonic storms and all those living along the Gulf began to pay attention.
As the storm moved across the Gulf it headed straight for Corpus Christi. Still, few seemed worried because it was a small storm with winds reported less than 100 mph. Weather forecasters also indicated the storm would turn to the north and threaten Galveston. But that turn never came. It moved west-northwest directly towards Corpus Christi, moving inland on the 3rd.
Though caught somewhat flat footed, Corpus Christi residents quickly swung into action protecting windows and battening down for a storm.
I was living at the time in the Galaxy Apartments on SPID and Kosarek. They are still there, looking just as they did then. I worked just down the road at what was then Jerry Asher Auto Parts, now the Car Quest parts store. On the morning of the third, the day the storm was to come ashore, I got up early and threw my surfboard atop my ’69 black and white Karmann-Ghia. I quickly buzzed out to Padre-Island. Fortunately the tide wasn’t too high and the swing bridges were operable. A three foot difference in the tide, high or low, and the bridges couldn’t work. Soon I was in the parking lot at Bob Hall Pier. There was a handful of surfers out already. The waves were about six to eight feet and moving fast, closing out as they swept towards the beach. I watched awhile and saw one wipe out after another. I decided to leave to take care of business.
At this time winds were light and there had been a few showers, but ominous clouds were building as they swept in from the Gulf. All of the store employees were ordered to come in that morning to prepare for the storm. So we taped windows, sand bagged doors and walls. Once we had taken care of the store we were free to go and tend to our own affairs.
I drove to my apartment and loaded a few things, clothes, water and canned food. My girlfriend Marsha met me there. I had promised to help her work on her car so I hurriedly broke out my tools and replaced the cracked exhaust manifold on her 1964 Falcon. I then followed her over to her house in the Cullen area behind Alameda and Airline. Marsha’s family were all there, her dad, mom and little brother, and they were in the last legs of their preparations. It was now late in the afternoon and the winds had been picking up steadily and it began to rain. Marsha’s dad was a police detective and he had to report for duty.
Their home was a late 50’s era ranch house, with a low, hipped roof. The exterior was done in brick. It would prove to be a sturdy house. We all gathered around the table in the kitchen and talked, a bit
nervously. We played some cards and fervently watched TV for the latest reports. By now the wind was howling like nothing I had ever seen before.The noise was tremendous, a dull roar which rose and fell but always seemed to be building. The house made noises, creaks and groans and it made you wonder if it was going to come apart. I recall looking out the front door and checking on my car. I was parked with the nose of the car pointed towards the house, the rear of the car to the street. The angle of the driveway was very steep and the street was flooding and rising close to the engine compartment in my rear engined car. I went outside and felt the brunt of the wind. It was extremely difficult to resist and walking was near impossible but I made it to the car and turned it around and went back in the house right away.
In the brief time I was outside I got a glimpse of the debris that was everywhere. There were downed trees and limbs, fences blown down and roof damage on some houses. We still had a long time to go. I was soaking wet, but I had brought a change of clothes. We ate some sandwiches and chips but no one seemed to have much appetite.
As the sun went down we lost electricity. They were well prepared with Coleman lamps, flash lights and a powerful battery operated radio. We tuned in to an emergency station and followed what news we could get. The weather reports said wind gusts as high as 190 mph had been recorded until the anemometer had blown away!
The night seemed to crawl by and we just felt so helpless, at the mercy of the storm. Gusts were still shaking the house and you could hear them coming, even over the constant roar. Of course we were afraid. But you couldn’t tell it. Everybody stayed calm; it was amazing to witness the cool courage my companions displayed. The storm raged on. I managed to get some sleep—in those days I could sleep through anything!
Finally, you could tell the wind was subsiding. The rain had stopped. The street flooding hadn’t gotten much higher. As the wind continued to fall off we peeked outside. It was dark. I wanted to go to my apartment and check it out but I turned back quickly as I discovered the streets were filled with debris, and there were downed power lines showering sparks as they brushed the ground. Back inside we turned in. I slept on a couch and got some winks. Still no electricity.
In the morning I did make my way home, through the wreckage of what had been Corpus Christi! It was incredible. It looked as if we had been attacked by an unknown enemy. Others were out looking also. There were no traffic lights working or any sign of electricity. Every where you looked there was just destruction! Many buildings were just piles of rubble! More houses seemed to be missing roofs than had them. Trees and branches and all kinds of debris filled the streets and yards and lots.
My apartment was a wreck. The roof had come off my building. I had a roommate who had gone to Houston; he didn’t come back. My place was flooded and everything was soaked. I lived on the bottom floor and the ceiling was sagging down about foot. I poked a hole in the sheetrock and water just poured out and down onto my floor! The windows were shattered, the place was full of mud and debris blown into the rooms. My stereo was wrecked and all my records were soaked and some broken—all the covers fell apart. I spent a couple of nights at my girlfriend’s house until I got my place halfway clean so I could stay there, with no electricity or AC.
At work there was another disaster. The building had lost its roof and everything inside was in disarray and wet. We spent weeks cleaning it up and salvaging what we could as hurried construction went on to get the building into shape. It was like this all over town as people dug out their stuff and tried to carry on as close to a normal life as possible.
There was some looting reported. One friend and some of his fellow workers camped out at their place of employment and protected the property and inventory with firearms. Occasional shots were heard but I don’t know of any one shot for looting.
Some didn’t live through the storm and there were many injuries. I have heard varying estimates of fatalities from 17-20. It was disheartening but the will to survive and carry on was evident everywhere. In many cases people met their neighbors for the first time as they checked on each other. For the next several days the air was full of BBQ smoke as folks grilled the meat that had been in their refrigerators and freezers. There was no electricity so all that meat had to be cooked, and shared. People got to know each other.
One commodity soon proved to be the most sought after, ice! It was August and it was hot! Electricity was coming on slowly but many didn’t get it for over two weeks. I was one of these. With no AC ice was an irresistible treat. Soon trucks were coming down from San Antonio and other places loaded with ice. They would sell it on the roadside but their prices soon hit ridiculous levels.
Mayor Jack Blackmon confiscated the ice and gave it away and set a fixed price until the emergency was over, thus foiling the ice pirates!
Around town and the area there were many strange sights in the aftermath of the storm. The old drive-in theater was wrecked. Only the marquee remained. On it were the words “Gone With the Wind!”
Some of the other area towns were hit even harder. Aransas Pass was a scene of unbelievable wreckage. Port Aransas suffered too. On Padre Island there wasn’t much there to hurt. There was a lot of beach erosion and cuts through the island.
While waiting for the stores to be stocked with food and electricity to be turned on many had nothing to eat. The Army and the National Guard set up field kitchens and served food three times a day. It was really good and well appreciated. With no electricity for a while traffic signals and street lights didn’t work. So everybody had to treat every street as a four-way stop. It was hard at first but amazingly people soon got the hang of it and it wasn’t so bad.
There was a curfew and martial law imposed in the first days following the storm. Curfew was at dusk and that made it tricky to eat supper at the field kitchen and get home before dark. The curfew was enforced by the many military personnel here as well as the other law enforcement agencies. It was not uncommon to see Jeeps with .50 caliber machine guns mounted in the back. I was stopped once for curfew violation and they weren’t friendly, but they did let us go.
It took a long time to recover and at times I wanted to just go somewhere else but over time things came back to being even better than before. But those who stayed here then will never forget Hurricane Celia!


At 9:26 PM , Blogger miketheo1212 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8:38 AM , Blogger Annie Social said...

Jeez, this brings back memories! I was sixteen when Celia came through, and the rest of my family was visiting relatives in California and couldn't get back before the storm. I battened down the hatches and rode it out with a neighbor. At one point we looked outside and saw a pickup truck that had been parked down the street rolling past us; someone had neglected to put it in gear, and the wind was pushing it right along.

I remember the ice wars; a group of us went on a pilgrimage to Victoria with 3 station wagons (remember station wagons?) to buy all the ice we could find, and brought it back for the neighborhood. It was good having cold drinks to go with all the food that was being cooked on outdoor grills before it could go bad.

Anyway, thanks for bringing back some interesting memories; I live in Florida, and have been through several storms the past few years, but none will leave as big an impression on me as Celia.

At 2:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was seven at the time. We were visiting my uncle who lived in a trailer park right off base (NAS Corpus Christi). We sought shelter in a house owned by a friend of his. The trailer park had over 200 trailers in it. 8 survived, one being my uncle's.

I remember the looters, troops on the streets, quest for ice, gas pumps being run with gas powered edging machines with a pulley on them, and the 180 mph gusts. I remember people losing everything they owned.

I've been through a total of 13 hurricanes since then on the coast of NC, including a hit parade of Bertha, Fran, Floyd, and others too numerous to name. I've done my time in the barrel and can say that I have not seen the likes of Celia since. Floyd had severe flooding and Fran the winds, but nothing like the gusts in Texas in 1970.


At 11:25 PM , Blogger Donata said...

Oh God!
where you live!
is terrible!
never seen such a storm
To survive terrible


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